Friday, March 10, 2006

New Mathematica applications: GeometricalGeodesy, LensLab, Rayica

A flurry of new software releases since I last wrote about Wolfram Research: GeometricalGeodesy, LensLab and Rayica.

GeometricalGeodesy, which probably falls in the class of "if you don't know what it means, your probably don't need it", concerns itself with geodesy tasks like distances between points on the earth, different mapping coordinate systems and map projections.

Rayica is a ray tracing and optical design program, and the better named product, LensLab, is basically a "lite" version of Rayica.

What these all have in common, and with the last months announcement of Statistical inferencing, is that they are all, so called, "Third party" addon products. These are extensions to Wolfram Research's Mathematica product, marketed by Wolfram, but are written by other companies.

This is a growing trend for new technical software- to write as an extension to an existing scientific packages. While there are some benefits in access to the existing base of users and support from the manufacturer of the package you are writing for, I believe the central reason is reduced cost of authoring.

Many years ago, a programmer had to write every part of a program. Then came operating systems, and programmers no longer had to worry about disk operations, or whether you had an EGA or VGA monitor. Then operating systems built in all kinds of useful libraries like graphics libraries, interface building libraries, networking etc. All you had to write were the parts of the software that were unique to you.

So it is in science, where many of the technical software packages are pushing themselves as the equivelent of computational operating systems. You don't have to program numerical libraries, sorting, solving, optimizing, statistics, bignum or symbolic libraries. Just those parts of computation that are unique to your discipline.

You don't need a mass market or huge price tag, if you can write the code cheaply enough.

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